Feeling old in heaven’s waiting room

Date: March 23, 2014

Distance: 13.1 (13.29 actual)

Time: 2:40:50


Nope, the time listed is not a typo. Denise and I really ran that slowly–my slowest race ever–due to several factors.shirt & medal

For my part, I will blame my slow pace on the fact that, instead of resting up prior to the race,  I decided it would be a great idea to put in about ten miles of walking the day before I was to run thirteen. For Denise’s part, she had a blistering sunburn and a pretty bad cold when she got to the starting line. Combine those factors with high temperatures, near 100% humidity, and a nasty spill five miles in, and a slower-than-expected pace is sure to result.

Despite our mediocre showing, I must say this was one of the most fun race weekends I’ve had–primarily because I had enough time to play tourist.

It had been four months since either Denise or I had raced, and I was really looking forward to this one. Denise, her husband, and two boys had already planned a week-long vacation in Orlando, Florida so they could enjoy a baseball spring training game, March Madness basketball games, and theme park tours. And, when you are a runner, you often plan vacations around a race. We had found the Florida Beach Half Marathon two hours from Orlando, just outside of St. Petersburg ( in Tierra Verde on the North Florida Beach) that coincided perfectly with their plans.

Largest hunk of cheese ever shipped to the U.S. (mazarrosmarket.com)

That’s one big hunk of cheese!(mazarrosmarket.com)

I flew into Tampa on Friday, checked into our borderline-sketchy motel, and enjoyed a coma-like ten-hour slumber that night. Yep, that felt like vacation. The next morning, I decided to venture out and see how the day unfolded. The only thing I absolutely had to do was pick up our race packets in preparation for the Sunday morning race. I decided the first thing on the agenda, however, was to find a decent cup of coffee to make up for the poor-excuse for coffee I forced down at the free motel breakfast–you know what I’m talking about. We’re talking a six-ounce Styrofoam cup and powdered creamer. Bleh.

My smart phone (love it), clued me in to the fact that a wonderful sounding Italian coffee roaster/deli was about six-tenths of a mile away so I followed my phone’s lead and found the most amazing store–Mazzaro’s Italian Market. An oasis amid carpet wholesalers, pawn shops, and nail salons, it included a market, deli, bakery, wine shop, cheese shop, and coffee bar. I not only enjoyed a great cup of coffee, but I purchased some crackers, Italian cheese, and a nice “medium bodied Tuscan red,” based on the cheese guy’s recommendation. I also grabbed some chocolate dipped figs, some salami, and novelty chocolates that looked like pimento-stuffed green olives. The place was packed, and I could see why. I could have spent hours in there just browsing.

After unloading my stash back at the room, I waffled between taking a cab or walking downtown to get the race packets and decided the six-mile round trip walk would do me good. Besides, it had been months since I could be outside and enjoy 75-degrees and sunshine. I changed out of my sandals and into my running shoes, and made my way downtown.

I easily found the running store where we were to pick up the race packets, and asked a store employee where he would recommend that I get lunch. He looked at his watch and told me if I hurried, three blocks away was the Saturday Morning Market where I would find lots of food choices for the next twenty minutes. I love street markets! This one didn’t disappoint. It was filled with people, music, art, and food galore. I quickly spotted an attractive, yet inexpensive, painting of tulips that my new artist friend, “Angus,” signed for me and I then found a Cuban food stand. I ordered a shredded pork wrap that was amazing, and I finished eating just as the street market was closing. Sure wish I could have spent more time browsing.

The Hallucinogenic Toreador. (thedali.org)

The Hallucinogenic Toreador. I saw this in person! (thedali.org)

As luck would have it, I noticed directional signs indicating that the Salvador Dali Museum was close by. Since I had a whole afternoon to kill, and I generally enjoy museums, I was intrigued. I followed the signs and spent the next three hours enjoying a formal tour, catching the temporary Andy Warhol display, and checking out “the world’s largest Dali gift shop.” I learned so much during that tour and wished at several points that my family had joined me on this trip. My daughter, in particular, would have enjoyed “The Dali.” I sure was impressed.

After my time at the museum I headed back towards the hotel. When all was said and done, I estimated that I had probably put in about ten miles over the six hours and, with the exception of the ten minutes I sat down eating my lunch, I had been on my feet the entire time.

Soon after I got back to the motel, Denise and her family arrived and we checked in with each other and planned the next morning’s race logistics.

The Race 

The race started at 7:05 a.m. and was about half an hour or so from our motel so our morning started pretty early. This was the first race where I wore a tank top and shorts at the starting line and was perfectly comfortable–that should have clued me in to the fact that I would be a hot, sweaty mess just minutes into the race. During most races, I freeze as I’m waiting for the start and then finally warm up about a mile in.

Only about 1800 people ran this race and, by looking at the list of finishers, the vast majority of runners were from the local area. Things started off normally after the gun went off and we were enjoying the course, which primarily followed a paved running trail through Fort DeSoto Park. While it didn’t provide very many ocean views as I had hoped, the course was a nice out-and-back. Denise and I were pacing only a little under when, at about mile five, Denise caught her foot on a raised portion of the running path and hit the ground hard–bracing herself with the palms of her hands and scraping her forearm and thigh. Could have been really bad. Luckily, the road rash on her forearm was the worst of it and she jumped right up, said she was fine, and kept on going. We had an EMT take a quick look at the next aid station about a mile or so away, and he washed off her arm and wrapped it in some gauze to get her through the rest of the race without dripping blood.

That spill, though, threw everything off. It had caused us to lose some time when we weren’t doing very well pace-wise, to begin with. As for me, I was drenched in sweat and joked that I felt like I was in a hot yoga class rather than a race. And, like I learned in my

After the race--under the obligatory Florida palm tree.

After the race–under the obligatory Florida palm tree.

Cedar Falls race in Iowa, I don’t think I do well on completely flat courses. I find the very flat courses to be more fatiguing on my joints and muscles than courses that have more variety. As we shuffled along, we joked that, at this rate, we will need walking canes to finish off our 50th race. Oh well, we finished. One favorite quote we overheard a walker say, “Hey, I don’t care how long it takes me to finish–I get the same medal as everyone else. The way I see it, I’m just getting my money’s worth!”

Now that’s an attitude we can embrace.

After the Race

After the race we enjoyed some great post-race food, took a couple of photos, and wandered back to the car to drive to the motel. We were beat.

After hot showers, a couple of hours of rest, and our Italian market snacks, we were a bit more revived and met a high school classmate of Denise’s for dinner. Her classmate lives about seven miles from where we were staying and her husband is a St. Petersburg native so they were able to tell us a lot about the area. Most notably, that the city’s nickname was “Heaven’s Waiting Room” in reference to how many elderly people lived there. Now, they enthusiastically noted–the average age is St. Pete’s is probably closer to 50 rather than mid-70s as it has been in the past. When they said that, I immediately thought, “That’s still old.” That is, until I checked myself and realized that I am closer to that demographic than I’d like to admit.

I liked St. Pete’s. Sure, there are parts that are a bit rough around the edges and it does have a very dated feel, but everyone we met was so friendly and we really enjoyed the time we spent there. Next on our list is Albuquerque in a month. At least I know we won’t be dealing with the humidity!


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